Mob Justice - Where Are We Headed?

It was recently reported that a mob provoked by religious parties attacked and destroyed a Hindu shrine in Karak district of KPK. Unfortunately, this was not the first or last incident of its kind. The majority of religious, political, non-political parties, fundamentalist groups and clerics apparently condemn such attacks on minorities in the name of religion, particularly on alleged cases of blasphemy. But the bitter truth is that many of them also provoke masses into punishing those who offend their vulnerable sentiments (of both religious and non-religious kind), which quickly turn into violence and create law and order situations. Incited crowds go beyond the scope of the right to protest and take the law in their own hands to punish the accused on the spot, by meting out “mob justice”. We have a history of a number of such atrocious cases, like those of Mishal Khan’s murder, Asia Bibi’s death sentence, abduction of Hindu girls and the immolation of a pregnant Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan.

In the most recent events related to Asia Bibi’s case, hours following her acquittal, huge mobs of people came out to paralyse life in major cities. Soon, the government shamefully had to come to an agreement with the disturbers of peace. No one among the protestors and their sympathisers wondered if the leaders of the incited crowds couldn’t be less religious than the learned judges of the apex court of the country. Nor too has the role of political and religious parties been responsible or just, as they much rather choose to accept the dominant narratives to save their vote banks and support bases than take the side of justice and rule of law.

When we hear about mob cow lynching incidents or other crimes against Muslims in India, our hearts go out to the victims. Yet we so often mete similar treatments of injustice against the minorities on our side of the border without batting an eye. Why is it that no political or religious party, or clerics in mosques, ever feel the need to tell their followers not to take the law in their own hands or to exercise patience? Due process and punishment exist for every kind of crime, so why can’t we let the courts do their work and have some faith in the system (and thereby strengthen it)? Why do so-called religious elements, who claim themselves to be the real guardians of blasphemy laws, find it so easy to gain such a sway over the sentiments of millions of people? Are we so blind to see that every such claimant, and every instance of mob justice, circumscribes the victims’ right to fair trial – a right which is so fundamental to the teachings of Islam as well as firmly inscribed in the Constitution of Pakistan?

Thankfully, the Supreme Court has taken notice of the most recent incident of the vandalization of the Hindu temple in Karak, and has issued orders for it to be restored. Much needs to be done, but for a first step, this order seems reassuring.